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Kerry to meet Russia's Lavrov in Rome on Monday

13 december 2014, 11:09

 Top US diplomat John Kerry will meet with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov in Rome on Monday, amid a toughening American response to a Kremlin-backed separatist insurgency in Ukraine, AFP reports.

State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf said on Friday that the pair would discuss the Palestinian bid for statehood at the United Nations, as well as the crises in Ukraine and in Syria, where the United States and its partners are battling the Islamic State extremist group.

The announcement came a day after US lawmakers defied President Barack Obama and approved fresh economic sanctions against Russia.

The legislation also authorizes -- but does not legally require -- Obama to provide $350 million worth of lethal and non-lethal military aid to Ukraine, including anti-tank weapons, ammunition and "tactical troop-operated surveillance drones."

Earlier Friday, Kerry telephoned Lavrov to discuss "recent developments" in Israel, the West Bank, Jerusalem and the region, along with initiatives at the United Nations, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

Kerry said he hoped to head off an end-of-year showdown at the United Nations over Palestinian statehood in meetings next week in Europe.

The Palestinians are carrying out a major campaign aiming to submit to the UN Security Council a draft resolution setting out a two- or three-year timetable for an end to Israeli occupation.

Russia and the United States both hold veto power at the UN Security Council.

Washington backs Ukraine in its conflict with Russia, but Obama has yet to approve the bulk of an arms request by Kiev.

The sanctions bill was passed unanimously Thursday in the Senate and House of Representatives. Because of a technical issue it returns to the Senate, where aides say there likely will be unanimous consent for final passage as early as Friday.

Russia is concerned at what it sees as NATO's creeping umbrella along its western borders.

Ukraine and the West accuse Russia of sending regular troops to back separatists in eastern Ukraine in a conflict that has claimed more than 4,300 lives since it broke out in April.

Russia denies the accusations despite a wealth of evidence.

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